The Right to Not Be Offended?

Ismail Mohamed, a religious scholar and former an imam, is quoted in today's New York Times as saying, “We don’t think that depictions of the prophets are freedom of expression. We think it is an offense against our rights.”

I don't think anyone has the right to never be offended. Indeed, I think the claim that one has the right to never be offended is just an attempt to avoid saying what is really in view: a claim to have the right to silence those who say things that one finds offensive. It is an attempt to cast the matter as about one's own rights rather than what it is really about, namely the taking away of the rights of others.

Whether viewed religiously or civilly, the same God or the same state that gives you the freedom to say things that may offend others also gives – or should give – those others the same right, which might at times offend you.

 

 

Perspective on Persecution
Newsworthy
A Riot Is The Language Of The Unheard
No Way To Protest
  • SockdolagerNodule
    • rmwilliamsjr

      this is commercial spam.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

    “I don’t think anyone has the right to never be offended” I agree. Some commenters have said that they think the riots happened becasue middle easterners don’t understand that Weesterners can communicate ideas that don’t have explicit goverment sponsorship, but Ismail Mohamed let the cat out of the bag. The riots happend because our goverment won’t silence speech that offends some Muslims.Obama attempted to fufill some of the goals of the rioters when he asked Google to remove the offending video, but he doesn’t have the legal power to force compliance. I suppose the goverment will fall back on harasment and pleading to make sure no one in the western world says anything to upset or allies in the middle east. It seems everyone thinks its hunky dory to lean on these guys because their movie is trash. Perhapes we will have a panel headed by Madonna and Salman Rushdi to determine whoes offensive material is artistic enought to be protected and who gets thrown to the wolves.

  • Pseudonym

    As the old saying goes: You can’t give offence. You can only take it.

    The flip side is that you also don’t have a right not to be ignored.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Pieret/100000023960330 John Pieret

    “When you hurt someone, you are just hurting one person,” said Ahmed Shobaky, 42, a jeweler. “But when you insult a faith like that, you are insulting a whole nation that feels the pain.”

    Mr. Mohamed, the religious scholar, justified it this way: “Our prophet is more dear to us than our family and our nation.”
    [Boggle]
    All I can say is that I’m glad I’m not part of their families … or their nations.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Evans/100000619020207 David Evans

    On the one hand, I agree with you completely. No religion or world-view should be immune from criticism.

    On the other hand…

    I think the makers of this film are cynical and evil. They must have known the probable consequences of releasing it, and either welcomed or were indifferent to the suffering and death that resulted. I don’t say that they should be prosecuted, but I feel strongly that they shouldn’t just get away with it. Perhaps we could protest outside their houses day and night, or spam their email, or…

    I’m trying to find a quote from C. S. Lewis that I think is relevant. Speaking of men who do evil and appear to flourish, he said something like “It is not good that any man should enjoy the pleasures of a wolf’s head (meaning, I think, seducer) and also those of a man respected by his peers”.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Finding ways of using our freedom of speech to criticize their judgment and discourage them and others from using their freedom of speech in reckless, foolish, and needlessly insulting ways, seems absolutely appropriate.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brenda.ahsen Brenda Von Ahsen

    “You don’t have the right to feel hurt when I hurt you”

    Of course people have the right to feel offended when someone offends them. Everyone has a right to their feelings. I do not have the right to hurt other people. I can find no right, no moral or ethical code, that says I have the right to treat others however I want to. I have no right to give offense to others.

    I absolutely have the right to not be offended. If someone offends me I have the right to not be offended by them. In fact, not taking offense is I think a virtue. We could use more people in this world who choose to not be offended by a great many things.

    What I don’t have the right to do is to burn someone’s house down because they called me a faggot and fired me making me lose my family, my job, my home and putting me on the street. You’re goddamn right I have a right to be angry when others mistreat me or say hurtful things to me.

    People *do* have the right to go through life and not be attacked or assaulted by the culture around them. No one disagrees with me on this. No one here or any where wants to live in an environment that offends their basic sense of what is right or wrong on a daily basis.

    We just think our way, our culture, is superior to their culture. We think our values are better than their values. And like all good cultural imperialists we tell them to STFU when we metaphorically rape their women and spit on their gods.

    That’s mighty white of us isn’t it?

    And when they spit back at us and on our gods, our sacred democratic values, well then all of a sudden we think that WE have a right to not be offended don’t we?

    How is all that working out for everyone?

    • http://profiles.google.com/fader2011 Alex Harman

      Brenda von Ahsen:

      Your comment, to the extent that it’s coherent at all, twists the meaning of Mr. McGrath’s post beyond recognition. Of course you have the right not to take offense, but that’s not what this is about. What you do not have is the right to have the government protect you from encountering ideas that offend you in a public forum by forcibly silencing the person expressing those ideas. That is the right Ismail Mohamed and his ilk are demanding.

      “I do not have the right to hurt other people. I can find no right, no
      moral or ethical code, that says I have the right to treat others
      however I want to. I have no right to give offense to others.”

      Horsehockey; you’re equivocating like crazy. You do not have the right to materially* harm other people; you absolutely have the right to hurt other people’s feelings. You have the right, in any public space in any country that recognizes basic human rights, to say whatever you damned well please, regardless of whether anyone else likes it or not. If what you say offends people, they have the right to ignore you, or to verbally express their disagreement with you in whatever terms they like, which may well offend you in turn. What they do not have the right to do is resort to force in order to shut you up, and vice versa.

      “What I don’t have the right to do is to burn someone’s house down
      because they called me a faggot and fired me making me lose my family,
      my job, my home and putting me on the street. You’re goddamn right I
      have a right to be angry when others mistreat me or say hurtful things
      to me.”

      More equivocation. You’re right that you don’t have the right to burn someone’s house down under any circumstances. If someone calls you a faggot, you can call him an asshole, or whatever insult occurs to you, but that’s the limit of your redress (unless he’s on your property, in which case you can also require him to leave, and resort to the minimum necessary force to make him comply).

      Firing you, however, is another matter entirely; again, where basic human rights are encoded into law (something that isn’t true in all of the United States yet, unfortunately), sexual orientation is not a legitimate reason to deny a person employment, and you can seek and receive legal redress for that. “Mistreating you” and “saying hurtful things to you” are two completely different things; the first is a violation of your rights, the latter a legitimate, though obnoxious, exercise of the speaker’s rights.

      “People *do* have the right to go through life and not be attacked or
      assaulted by the culture around them.”

      But not the right to go through life and not be insulted or offended by the culture around them. Sticks and stones may break your bones, and so nobody is permitted to hit you with them. However, while it isn’t really true that words can never hurt, the hurt they cause is intangible, and you have no right to be protected from it; such a right would have to entail an unacceptable imposition on the rights of others, and thus cannot be enforced.

      “No one disagrees with me on this.”

      That’s only true if you strictly define “attacked or assaulted” to mean things that cause physical harm. If you really meant “insulted or offended,” as much of the rest of your comment implies, then everyone who gives a damn about freedom of expression disagrees with you on this.

      “No one here or any where wants to live in an environment that offends
      their basic sense of what is right or wrong on a daily basis.”
      True, but if your sense of right and wrong is incompatible with other people’s freedom of expression, the fact that you don’t want to live in an environment that offends it is strictly your problem. Grow a thicker skin or find a cave to hide in, I don’t care, but you don’t get to impose your standards on other people’s freedom.

      “We just think our way, our culture, is superior to their culture. We
      think our values are better than their values.”

      Yes, we do — and many of the victims of their culture and values, even within their culture, agree with us. Case in point: the offensive film that touched off the current incident was the creation of an Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Christian — i.e. a member of a minority that some Muslims have persecuted for generations, even as other Muslims preach and practice religious tolerance toward their fellow “People of the Book” (yes, the world is always more complex than “Us vs. Them”).

      I’m not defending the content of the film itself, nor the film-makers intentions in releasing it (he may well have wanted riots and violence against Americans, in order to provoke the American government into taking a harder line against the Muslims), but I understand where his anger at Muslims comes from. My ex-wife was raised Assyrian Orthodox, though she herself is a secular humanist like me; one of the most common causes of death to be found in her father’s family tree (which has branches in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq) was “murdered by Muslims for being a Christian and refusing to convert.” (That violence doesn’t all flow one way, either: her uncle served in the Christian Phalangist militia in Lebanon’s civil war, and killed a number of Muslims. He’s reticent about the details, and I don’t really want to know whether he was involved in the slaughter of Palestinian women and children at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, but he was part of the military force that committed those atrocities.)

      Does your cultural relativism really extend to allowing husbands to beat and rape their wives (who were sold by their fathers and never consented to the marriage in the first place) with complete impunity, and punishing the wives if they try to escape? To allowing any Muslim to rob, rape, beat, and otherwise abuse any non-Muslim with complete impunity because the non-Muslim’s testimony is inadmissible in a sharia court? Because those are the fruits of the “values” the more reactionary forms of Islamic culture hold to be “superior” to the values expressed in our Bill of Rights.

      “And like all good
      cultural imperialists we tell them to STFU when we metaphorically rape
      their women and spit on their gods.”

      There’s nothing metaphorical about rape, and to refer to Westerners objecting to the actual rape that conservative Muslims commit and condone against “their women” on a widespread and regular basis as “metaphorical rape” of those same women goes beyond absurd; it’s obscene, and you ought to be ashamed of even suggesting such a monstrous false equivalency.

      “And when they spit back at us and on our gods, our sacred democratic
      values, well then all of a sudden we think that WE have a right to not
      be offended don’t we?”

      No. They can “spit back” all they want. What “WE” demand is the right not to be murdered — and that includes our diplomats, who are in their countries as invited guests of their governments, under the sacred (even more sacred to Muslims than to us, as a matter of fact) laws of hospitality.** Way to miss the point, there; the false equivalency between being “offended” and being beaten to death is even uglier than the one between rape and calling out rape.

      * The exception to free speech is speech that does materially harm other people. If you shout “fire!” in a crowded nightclub that you know is not actually on fire, anyone hurt, and the family of anyone killed, in the resulting stampede for the exits may sue you and win, and the government may prosecute you and fine or imprison you for reckless endangerment or a similar offense. If you tell a lie about someone that materially harms them — “bear false witness,” as the Bible would call it — by causing them to be convicted of a crime, or fired from a job, or deserted by a spouse or romantic partner, because of an offense of which you falsely and knowingly accuse them, then you are committing libel (in writing), slander (if spoken), or perjury (if spoken under oath to speak the truth), and again may be sued by your victim or prosecuted by the government and punished with legal damages, a fine, or even imprisonment.

      ** It’s worth noting that the people who attacked our embassies were committing the real Sin of Sodom: they were raising their hands in violence against guests in their cities who, themselves, had done nothing to offend them. I suspect that understanding informs at least some of the sorrow and shame expressed by the counter-protesters in Libya who took to the streets to apologize for the violence and mourn the death of Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues.

      • http://www.facebook.com/brenda.ahsen Brenda Von Ahsen

        “Your comment, to the extent that it’s coherent at all, twists the meaning of Mr. McGrath’s post beyond recognition.”

        If so it is because I have a different understanding of “rights” than you do. There is a huge difference between human rights, duties and obligations and legal rights.

        “You do not have the right to materially* harm other people; you absolutely have the right to hurt other people’s *feelings.* You have the right, in any public space in any country that recognizes basic human rights, to say whatever you damned well please, regardless of whether anyone else likes it or not.”

        Of course I have the right to materially harm or even kill other people. Are you insane? If someone attacks me I have the right to defend myself up to and including killing them in self defense. I also know that I have the *legal* right to say anything I want but I wasn’t talking about that. What I question is whether or not there exists a *moral* right to offend others. I don’t think such a right exists.

        “while it isn’t really true that words can never hurt you, the hurt they cause is *intangible,* and you have no right to be protected from it;”

        You are talking about the law and what is or isn’t good public policy. I don’t disagree with those things. I think that having laws on free speech are a good idea but I am not convinced they are *rights*. A right is something that is true for everyone, everywhere at all times.

        “That’s only true if you strictly define “attacked or assaulted””

        You don’t disagree with me. You, like me, do not believe that you have no right to be offended by things which would truly offend you. I guarantee you such things or people exist who would offend you to your core.

        “Yes, we do — and many of the *victims* of their culture and values, even within their countries, agree with us.”

        Well you are just plain wrong. There simply is no culture that is inherently superior to another culture. Nor are there any cultural practices which are better than others beyond pragmatic considerations. If you ask me “Is a free speech policy a good idea?” Then I’d say sure, of course it is. But, “Is a society that practices free speech superior to one that does not?” No, it is not. Why? Because there is no absolute value free context from which one can judge all cultures. ALL value judgments are subjective.

        “Does your cultural relativism really extend to allowing husbands to beat and rape their wives”

        My cultural relativism goes even farther. There are tribes in New Guinea that used to practice cannibalism. The Innuit practiced infanticide, the Aztecs, human sacrifice. We judge such cultures harshly today but I can find no absolute perspective from which I can judge them. I deny it exists.


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